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tv   Tavis Smiley  PBS  March 1, 2014 12:00am-12:31am PST

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tavis: good evening. from los angeles, i am tavis smiley. on sunday night the oscars will be held in los angeles. last year was an exceptionally strong year for movies. tonight we will look at three excellent film that earned multiple nominations, and we will highlight upstanding documentaries. we will also single out to first , both in thences supporting acting categories. we will catch up with three actors in the best adapted screenplay category. we are glad you have joined us. a preview of the academy awards coming up right now.
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♪ >> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ tavis: hollywood is often criticized for ignoring stories about older people. this year there are two films that challenge that conventional
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wisdom. philomena starring judi dench at nebraska with six nominations, including best victor and a nomination for bruce turned 36 years after his first acting nomination for coming home. dern has a fascinating story. he beat -- he came from a privileged family and new eleanor roosevelt. stevenson -- adlai stevenson was a family friend. >> you told the sheriff you were walking to nebraska? >> that's right. to get my million dollars. >> you didn't win anything. it was a complete scam. >> i'm running out of time. tavis: i'm trying to get a sense of how you are being a contrarian all these years -- how that has impacted the roles you have laid, the things you have done and not done as an actor.
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>> basically rebellion from inside against what i was brought up to think was cool or wasn't cool. two, they were very open-minded compared to the people in my house. he was the one with ideas i thought were really interesting. law948 when he quit the firm to become governor, and four years later he runs for president, and i will tell you an interesting thing i have never said on air. in 1952 he ran for president and then ran again in 56. in 1959 when he was about to be go to the you in, he .ame to see me we went out to supper. asaid, can i ask you
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question. i said, when you ran and 52, what was that like? ofsaid, i felt i came on top a white course, but he said, i ran against the guy who couldn't be be. he wasthe war, god-fearing, he was a good golfer. he was a wonderful politician, and he was an honest man, and the down nobody would mess with him, and i said -- in 56 he said, i wasn't sure i wanted to do it again, but i went ahead said, what isd i the difference? he grabbed my wrist and got tears in his eyes, and he said to me, the difference is when i came in in 56, somehow that horse was a lot ray are -- gray
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thend i realized i was in wrong place, and he grabbed my arm as hard as he could, and he said, i want you to do me a favor. i don't want to to ever vote for that office until you see imebody on a white horse, and never voted for president until i felt obama had a dream and would pull it off, and that was the first time i voted for resident. >> if you want to survive, do and say as little as possible. tavis: 12 years a slave is one of the most acclaimed tomes last year. the film earned nine nominations. among those screenwriter, supporting actor weikel fassbender, supporting actress,
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.irector and chiwetel ejiofor you are a fine actor. i am trying to get a sense of how you first responded. >> i was intimidated. weight of thethe responsibility of it. i had never seen a story from inside the experience. i had never seen a film inside the slave experience in this way. you come to a point where you think there is not going to be of film inside this experience because the received information is that it is too difficult to make, too difficult to finance. it -- take itlk from in and all that is more a bleak. went through the experience. when i recognized steve was going to make this film, i recognized it was an opportunity to do something that hadn't been done before.
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were feelingings the responsibility and the self-doubt and not wanting to be the guy-i would have to look back on the experience and question whether i was the guy to do that. you know what i mean? i felt those were the questions in my head, and that is why i , once a moment of pause steve asked me about it. then i went back to the book. something happened when i read the book, because i felt it is a reflection on a man's life. it's a reflection on this man's life, and he writes about it in such a poetic, humble way about his experiences, and i realized i don't have to worry about the weight of it or the geopolitical racial consciousness of it, of the history of slavery and so on, but i have to think about solomon northrup and his journey. tavis: what is your sense of the
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moment of the response of the film? it has generated all kinds of conversation. is it what you thought might happen? >> yes. i really wanted to put it on the map. in everydayery life, but no one focuses on it. it seems like people in general turn a blind eye to it because it's easy to do so. i wanted to hold the camera up and pointed in the direction of look at this. people or tod cause a debate in some ways. to me that's what art is all about. arts about putting something in society that causes debate. tavis: is there a point at which for a story that is this true and tension filled, is there a point at which you run the risk
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-- i am not critiquing, but i am asking, is there a point at which you make it too difficult to swallow? >> in the whole film there are five sequences of physical violence in a movie that is two hours long. tavis: you didn't tone it down? >> you see a thriller with someone shooting somebody every five seconds. extent very tame to some , but it is a film about slavery. in order to make a film about slavery one has to make a film about slavery. people iney keep captivity for hundreds of years? they did it in this manner. we had to tell the truth. otherwise, there is no point. tavis: two young actors involved were singled out for their first
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screen performance. lupito nyong'o and barkhad abdi . each earned best supporting acting nominations after being cast in their respective films over hundreds of others who audition for those roles. >> 430 degrees. >> everything going to be ok. look at me. look at me. i'm the captain now. tavis: i was saying he must hear this all the time. everywhere he goes people walk up to him, and what do they say? >> i'm the captain now. tavis: it's a great line. i like how you say, look at me. i'm the captain now. it's a great film, great mind. everybody loved it. i don't want to color this question too much. i want you to tell me the story. take me back to minneapolis, where you live.
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how did you hear about the open casting call? tell me the whole story about how you first heard about this and ended up hanging out with tom hanks. and my friends house, and we are just hanging out, and we are watching tv, and a commercial came on. tom hanks coming to my neighborhood two days after that, so i am going. i thought about it, and i went there. it's a huge crowd. maybe about a thousand people. i was there. paper,t, fill out the write your name. they asked me simple questions. they assigned me to a character or are. they give me part of the script to study.
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next day.k the i auditioned the first time. then we had to be in groups of four for the audition. then i found three of my buddies there. we live in the same neighborhood . we are almost like brothers. after we found out we each had three different characters, we formed a group and auditioned that day. it wasn't that good, but we went home. we practiced, we came back and auditioned more. then we had two weeks of silence. two weeks of silence. after that we got a phone call from the casting director, and she told us all green grass so allo meet us in l.a., four of us came to l.a., and we met director all green grass.
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that's when he told us we got the part. four of you guys? >> all four of us. tavis: that part of the story i didn't know. you happen to run into your buddies. you started rehearsing together, and paul green grass found all four of you? >> all four of us. but that servant shall be beaten with many strikes. >> you have been a little bit of everywhere these days. for those who have not heard the story of how this came to be, take me back one more time and tell me where you were and how this role came your way. >> i was about to graduate from the yale school of drama, and my manager received a script, and she thought i would be good for patsy, so she had me go on tape in new york, and it so happened i was going to be in l.a. a week later for the showcase, so she
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had casting directors come to see my work, and the casting director invited me to work with her, and she put me through a one-hour grueling audition, and about two weeks later i was invited to louisiana to audition. it was three auditions in two different states. tavis: when you saw patsy on the page for the first time, what did you think? >> i was heartbroken when i read her story, and i felt a deep sense of sympathy. i felt so sorry for her, and i realized then i had a lot of work to do in order to be able to actually play her, because seeing somebody as sympathetically is a judgment of the situation rather than an advocacy for where they are and what they are fighting for, so i had my work cut out for me. i had a gut reaction to her. there was something i understood in my gut that i didn't understand in my head. i know that something actors have spoken about in the past with
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certain roles, and i was just so notted to feel that and understand it and then to go about trying to find how to play her and understand her in other ways as well. role withwn into this this group of people was a very intimidating thing, and i suffered from a lot of self-doubt. i thought steve was going to call me and fire me or just tell me he made a mistake in calling me in the first place. it was about finding the confidence and comfort and just being present every day, so not being overwhelmed, finding a way to not be overwhelmed the entire magnitude, just the day today, what can i do today to prepare? that's what got me through. that is something that i think is keeping me alive this awards season, being in the present moment and letting the future
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worry about itself. overlooks generally the importance of screenplays, but it's important that it's impossible to make a good movie without a good script. three actors wrote roles for themselves and were nominated in best adapted screenplay. wasy guess is anthony adopted and sent to america. >> i think i would like to go. if anthonye to know ever thought of me. i thought of him every day. seen: for those who have this, and almost everybody has now as the academy awards are approaching. for those who have seen it they understand there is some humor in it. at first glance it is not a funny story. how did you find the humor in this story? >> you are absolutely right. when i tell this story, there is a woman searching for her son and there is tragedy, they say
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that is depressing. who would want to see that film? i thought, i want to make this funny. i talked to them and realized they are very different characters. martin is an intellectual. philomena is a blue-collar retired irish nurse, so when you have two people so different, you bang them into each other, and you can find humor. it was very important to have comedy because when you have such a heavy subject after -- i didn't want people to leave the cinema feeling depressed or down. somehow -- even though the story has a tragic element to it, i wanted people to leave feeling positive. also, it's dealing with the difficult subject matter. it deals with religion and catholicism, and there are some criticisms, and people get touchy when you criticize their religion. you have to be careful. i knew if i could make people
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laugh people relax a little. they are not so scared about talking about difficult subjects. lex like i am the first woman you have ever fallen in love with? >> sure. and i wasn't your first love? >> of course not. >> i thought i was. stop it. it's dumb. how old are you? come on. >> 41. seen -- scene, it's about 14 minutes long. talk to me about the reason for doing that, why you think it works? that's a long opening scene, but it works. >> we rehearsed this take probably 21 days as a dialogue -- we are driving the car 20 miles of road that has to be blocked out with this crazy
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take. the kids are asleep in the car. when you are young you are always talking, and you are with the woman and she is with you and your philosophizing. what's going to happen as you get older? those moments of whimsy are hard to find. that was the germ that started the screenplay. where are they driving? what are they talking about? what's on their mind? we thought, this is the way to open the movie. just dive right in. the in the car with them. i think it works. >> it does work. that's a lot of dialogue to remember. joke allned i always we seem to do is run minds. at dinner we run lines. when you have 21 pages you are supposed to get in one take, you run the lines a lot. i recall having this
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conversation with ethan about how stunned i was in the opening on forever.oes >> the 14 minute taken the car. straight through with all that dialogue, and everything was scripted. >> all that overlapping. when you speak you overlap, so you can't fake that. in a regular film when you want people to overlap, you cut it that way. its mixing and editing. here it is one shot with the two of us. .e have to rehearse it basically editing is done in the writing process and the acting, so it's very tricky. it's almost impossible. we work for two days on that scene, and we finally got one good take. that's it. the film is very intense. we were very lucky.
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the films are little miracles for me. it works, but basically it could not work. it could basically be a disaster, but it's not. we succeed in doing it rarely. >> it helps if you have two thespians doing the scene. we will close tonight by celebrating two excellent documentaries this year. dirty wars tackles the issue of drone warfare, and the delightful 20 feet from stardom, which celebrates those backup singers with brilliant voices that make all the difference. phone call.strange someone was reaching out, someone close to the heart of the elite force. >> there are hundreds of covert operations. i have to imagine we are
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creating a lot of enemies, starting with the family of these victims we kill with these drones. you can't surrender to a drone. >> there is going to be blowback. don't look at the impact of our policies to our peril. i think the worst thing we do is a legitimate reason to want to harm americans. i fear our future. 9/11 wasn't about people hating mcdonald's. there were reasons it happened, and it had to do with our foreign policy. it is controversial to say that. our foreign policy will cause low back, and that is my biggest fear. >> they stayed in the game, and they are legends. >> it is my honor to inducted into the rock 'n roll hall of fame -- >> i knew a little bit about the story. i heard your music and enjoyed it for years, but when i saw
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this documentary it reminded me that people see your glory but don't know the back story. when i saw the back story, i don't have language to describe how turned on i was by this documentary. let me start by asking what you thought of it when you saw it? you lived the life. that's when i first saw it, i cried. talking about it and seeing it is two different things. when they told the story of when i was out of work and what i did to come back to this business, i was so touched. when you live it i don't think it's as bad as when you tell it and see it on screen. they did such an unbelievable job. they really dug deep and things i didn't know existed. tavis: before you were inducted into the rock 'n roll hall of fame, you cut a bunch of hit records when you found yourself cleaning peoples houses.
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at that point or any other point have you ever thought about completely -- i don't want to say giving up, but getting out of the business? you have had ups and downs. have you ever thought about getting out? >> i did, but you know what? i kept reminding myself, you have the gift. it's a gift. you don't roll gifts away, especially beautiful gifts. ofis: have you ever thought giving up? >> i am too stubborn to give up. i remember things told to me by my godmother. del reese. she would always say to me because i lost my mother when i was 18 or 19 years old. she always meant toward me, and she would always say, you got together your self. there's no work. there are no sessions going in. and god willgod,
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take you through whatever you need to go through. everything eva put in you, it's going to come up when you need it, and it always came up. mean you are going to give up? you have got a gift. >> that are look at some of the excellent projects and people nominated for the academy awards. watching, and as always, keep the faith. >> for more information on today's show, visit tavis smiley at tavis: hi, i'm tavis smiley. join me next time for a conversation with alicia keys and herb albert. that's next time. we will see you then. ♪
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>> and by contributions to your pbs station from viewers like you. thank you. ♪ >> be more.
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next, caltrans under scrutiny again amid ongoing concerns about the bay bridge span. and a criminal investigation of a petaluma slaughterhouse puts local ranchers at risk. and a hi-tech lifeline teaching computer codes to give black youth better opportunities. >> we need designers. we need a lot of people.


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